EGYPT'S MOST FAMED SNAKE-CHARMER
spoon, the snake's venom spat down the curved fangs repeatedly, issuing in amber-coloured fluid. Soon that silver spoon was partly filled with a quantity of poison, of the consistency of glycerine, and like treacle in appearance; which amazed me when I recalled that a drop or two would be sufficient to kill a man.
As a last feat Sheikh Moussa took hold of its body and, with a single movement, flung the snake around his neck, as though it were a lady's fur. It now appeared to be thoroughly tamed, accepting its undignified position without making any visible objection.
The man lifted the lid of his basket and held the snake's head immediately over the open top. With a single word he commanded the creature to go in. Without any delay it slid down into the wickerwork depths, until the whole of its long, smooth-ringed body had disappeared. Then something happened— undoubtedly a meeting with the large scorpion which already lay at the bottom of the basket—for the cobra suddenly writhed and twisted backwards out of the basket and attempted to make its escape. A sharp word from Moussa, a moment's hesitation, and it re-entered its rounded prison. Its captor shut down the lid, which he fastened tightly.
What would happen inside that basket? I pictured the virulent scorpion and the deadly snake engaged in mortal combat and I wondered which would be the victor. Or would they rest, side by side, in peace?
Moussa turned a tired but triumphant face in my direction. His demonstration was over.
We were now surrounded by an enormous gtoup of spectators who had gradually crept closer and closer as the danger diminished and their courage increased. The original audience of forty had now swelled to double that number, for news travels in the East with a speed that defies understanding. With one accord the crowd of men—of all classes from beggars to effendis, boys and girls, standing and lolling in various attitudes —gave a tremendous ovation to the victorious snake-charmer.
"Praised be Sheikh Moussa 1" yelled the quaint chorus three times.
Two days later, when I returned from a brief trip up the Nile to visit an old lady hermit-fakir who lived alone in a hut on an